Late last month, China’s Ministry of Education released the second draft of its 10-year education blueprint for public discussion. The research, planning, and drafting process took three years and was spearheaded by Premier Wen Jiabao himself. There’ll be a month of public discussion and debate before the paper is officially released this October.
In its preamble, the paper acknowledges that ‘K-12 students have too much pressure, the promotion of character education has faltered, students have problems adapting to society and to the workplace, (and) the schools aren’t producing enough competent and creative talent.’
So what’s to be done? The blueprint believes that the root of the problem is not China’s national examination system, but that students have too much competition and pressure:
‘The priority task is to ensure that the students’ workload is reduced. This would enable students to obtain more control over his spare time to develop his interests. There must be mechanisms in place to monitor and supervise the reduction in student workload. Additionally, school rankings based on graduation rate should be prohibited, and graduation rates should be banned from being publicized altogether. Out-of-school cramming courses should be banned, and extra-curricular activities should be encouraged so that students use their spare time positively and efficiently.’
On a personal note the paper sounds to me like a ringing affirmation of the reforms I discussed before introduced by Principal Wang Zheng at Shenzhen High School and the blueprint implies that China needs more visionary principals who have the courage to experiment and take risks. In fact, the blueprint even goes so far as to favour empowering localities and individual schools to experiment.
All sounds promising, right?
Unfortunately, China’s Ministry of Education is the Polonius figure in the Chinese political system: a fountain of obvious wisdom and empty rhetoric from an incompetent, powerless buffoon. Aiming to reduce pressure on the students without once mentioning the source of all this pressure (the national examination) is classic Chinese bureaucratic doublethink, and public discussion of this blueprint in a culture obsessed with education has either been mute or sceptical.
One Chinese blogger thinks that the new blueprint is old ideas recycled and re-packaged. For him, the individuals who most matter—teachers and students—are conspicuously absent from the reform process, and that’s why the plan ignites so little interest now and will have little impact once it’s introduced and ‘implemented.’
He also notes ironically that teachers and students just don’t have the time to participate in a discussion about how to reduce their workload and stress because they’re so overloaded and stressed.